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IL Press: Snake in the grass? Study will find out


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Posted by W von Papinešu on April 11, 2003 at 12:11:36:

THE HERALD (Chicago, Illinois) 11 April 03 Snake in the grass? Study will find out (Cindy Wojdyla Cain)
The last time a rattlesnake was spotted in Will County, it was road kill.
That was back in 1999. Now forest preserve district officials want to know if any of the endangered eastern massasauga rattlesnakes that used to live in Goodenow Grove are still alive.
On Thursday, the district's board approved spending almost $20,000 for a rattlesnake survey.
The survey is necessary for the district to proceed with its master plan for the 2,000-acre Plum Creek Greenway, said district Executive Director Mike Pasteris. The state won't approve the plan without more knowledge about the endangered species' habitat.
The species is found in only two Illinois' locations, Lake Carlyle in Clinton County and Goodenow Grove in eastern Will County, and it's a candidate for the federal endangered species list as well.
District officials didn't know the snake was a tenant of the land when they were negotiating to purchase it in the mid-1980s, said board member Mary Ann Gearhart Deutsche. But during a lunch meeting to discuss purchasing a different parcel from the land's owner, district officials spied the rare reptile slithering across a road, Deutsche said.
That put the brakes on negotiations for the other piece of land and the district bought the snake site.
Forest preserve officials don't want the snakes' exact location revealed to keep curiosity seekers away. In general, it is usually found in wet areas. It burrows into the ground most of the year and it comes out in warm seasons where it lives in grassy areas, Pasteris said.
The rattlesnake is native to Illinois, but its numbers have diminished greatly through the years as habitat has disappeared. When people moved to the area they considered the snake an enemy, said district spokesman Bruce Hodgdon.
"So they killed it."
Dave Mauger, the district's land manager program coordinator, spotted a live rattlesnake here in 1996 and he found the road kill in 1999. He hasn't seen once since.
"We may have lost them, but that's the purpose of (the survey)," he said.
The tan-and-brown rattlesnakes are usually two feet long. They are tough to find because they sit around under vegetation all day waiting for small prey like field mice and voles to wander by.
"The public is never going to see them because they hide in things," Mauger said.
The snakes are not aggressive and pose no threat to humans, he added.
"You'd have to pick them up and handle them to get bitten."



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